You are here
President Bush Urged to Prevent Future Abuse of Detainees
President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We, along with you and most of the world, were horrified by the photos of mistreatment of detainees in Iraq. We welcome your public condemnation of those acts and your pledge to prosecute those responsible. We urge you to make immediate systemic changes so that this kind of abuse is never repeated.
The impact of these incidents is serious, particularly for the moral authority of the U.S. government in pursuing a strategy of promotion of human rights and democracy in the Middle East. As an organization committed to the worldwide expansion of freedom, we recommend that your Administration take bold action to address this critical issue. You will find some specific recommendations below. The U.S. government should show how a free nation deals with such abuses. The failure to do so would deal a debilitating blow to U.S. democracy and human rights promotion efforts for years to come.
Freedom House joined other major human rights groups in welcoming the statement of Administration policy last June by Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes. Mr. Haynes' letter pledged that the United States would abide by its binding legal obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Similarly, Freedom House welcomed your personal pledge on June 26, 2003, that the U.S. was committed to the prohibition of torture as well as cruel and unusual punishment.
Despite those statements, there have been a number of reported incidents in which U.S. personnel have apparently felt free to use their own interpretations as to what methods are appropriate, and chose to utilize abusive, cruel, degrading and humiliating techniques. The conduct depicted in the photos and testimony concerning Abu Ghraib prison, the reports of similar conduct elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the deaths of detainees in custody are clear violations of America's commitment not to engage in such practices.
The lack of clarity inside and outside the U.S. government regarding whether and to what degree the Geneva Conventions apply to detainees, the lack of training for military police and lack of clarity in current guidance for interrogators as to prohibited and allowed measures, the secrecy of the detentions, and the lack of supervisory oversight all contributed to an atmosphere that made such abuses possible. We urge that your Administration address each of these aspects to prevent the recurrence of such practices in the future.
We also recommend that your Administration implement new internal monitoring mechanisms - including the presence of a judge advocate general or other senior officer at all interrogation centers. The International Committee of the Red Cross must be given timely access to all places of confinement as required by the Geneva Conventions, and American personnel must understand that refusing such access will be subject to discipline. A high-level monitoring mechanism should be established to assure that all recommendations of the International Committee of the Red Cross are addressed and investigated in a timely fashion.
Finally, it is important to expedite legitimate investigations of these alleged abuses. This openness will demonstrate anew America's commitment to the rule of law and democracy, and will show that the recent abuses do not reflect the true character of America.
The Board of Trustees of Freedom HousePeter Ackerman
J. Brian Atwood
Kathryn Dickey Karol
Bette Bao Lord
John Norton Moore
Diana Villiers Negropont
R. James Woolsey
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.